By Nicole O’Connell
Worcester State’s Visual and Performing Arts Department has been offering new opportunities to share music, and students and audiences are reveling in the possibilities. Opportunities have risen through the increase in student composers, the extension of a music minor, and campus performances.
Worcester State offers multiple levels of music composition classes and students have been letting their creativity soar. Nathaniel deVries, a WSU junior minoring in Music, took Composition I during his first year at WSU. He felt the class was accessible to those coming from all backgrounds of music. The VPA welcomed and challenged every student, creating a positive class community of students ready to contribute.
The composition classes have been so well received that last year that the VPA introduced the Composition and Music Technology minor. Students partaking in this minor learn about theory, performance, composition, and digital audio.
While on the surface, composing music digitally may not seem much of a community-builder, the VPA department emphasizes an interdisciplinary education in the arts. Just because these students are creating music does not mean they are restricted solely to the music scene. The skills they learn in the composition classes will be able to serve them in a variety of paths.
As Dr. Kyle Martin of the VPA department explains, “They could apply it to video games, they could apply it to video, film, they could apply it to live theatre or art installations.” One student created music for a fantasy-style video game they envisioned while another developed accompaniment to fit the scenes of a Japanese anime. Music composition students are being encouraged to collaborate with other artists, too, and last year all three campus theatre productions included music composed by students.
Annie Machado, a senior VPA major/Music concentrator, took Composition I and II at WSU. She put her skills to fruitful use by composing music for last year’s theatre production of Anton Chekov’s “The Seagull.” Machado composed about seven pieces in total, to be performed by two guitarists and a clarinet player.
Like deVries, Machado acknowledges the challenges of composing but also the sense of community, “The composing process was long and demanding, but I learned a lot about working with other people on such a big project…Working one-on-one with other musicians was also an experience I am grateful for, as it helped me with my communication skills and being able to convert my ideas into something real to work with during rehearsals.”
Being involved with “The Seagull” was a two-fold experience for Machado. While composing, she built relations with production members of “The Seagull.” However, she also built relations with the audience by performing her compositions on stage.
“Live music is something that has rarely made its way into theater productions here at Worcester State, so it was a huge challenge for me from beginning to end,” Machado said. “It was such a great feeling to perform in front of a live audience finally and to sense their reactions to how the music worked within the whole production.”
Though difficult at times, Machado found the experience to be very rewarding and supportive of her future career goals in the field of music.
“This was by far one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I have had at Worcester State in the music department,” she said. “I am so glad I took the opportunity to work with people from both the theater department and music department to create something the school has not seen much of before.”
In the future, Dr. Martin hopes composition students will be able to partner with disciplines and departments outside the VPA. He suggested perhaps a video project with the Communications department.
“One thing I’ve been impressed with in terms of students is that they’re not inhibited about delving into an area where they have no experience,” Martin said. “They’re eager to write and express themselves.”
Campus ensembles have also been increasing in both number and performances. A small sampling of the ensembles offered are African Drumming, Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, and Chorale. In the spring, a Latin American Music Ensemble will be introduced, welcoming even more students into the WSU music community and enabling them to connect to more audiences. Ensembles are open to anyone, and non-VPA majors are encouraged to get involved.
“There are some really fantastic individuals and ensembles at Worcester State, and there’s plenty of room for people outside of the VPA major to join in so we can continue to grow and prosper,” sais Ian Simpson, a WSU senior and VPA major concentrating in Music.
Part of the “growth” of music on campus is the new performances series. Last year, coffeehouse-style performances were held in the Blue Lounge with the jazz, wind, and strings ensembles. This year, there are coffeehouse performances in the LRC Starbucks, and there is a Sheehan Dining Hall Lunchtime Performance series. While students can utilize these more causal performances as trial runs for their final performances, their music also reaches audiences who perhaps would not have ventured to a more formal music performance.
The first Starbucks coffee house performance was held on Friday, October 26 by music students Machado and Simpson. Simpson was pleased with how well the performance went
“The coffee house was a lot of fun: it was a good turn out, and I think people were impressed with the performance,” he said. “We’re hoping to do more things like it in the near future.”
Simpson was also enthusiastic about the increase in student performances on campus.
“I think that these series are a welcome change,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent in the department, and until now there haven’t been enough opportunities for people on campus to really see what’s going on with the music students at WSU. This is just a really great way to help spread the word that we’re out here, and hopefully, people who are looking to get involved in the music scene will be able to find out about all the great opportunities we have.”
Another group of performers on campus is the students who have been taking private lessons offered at Worcester State. These students perform in the Mosaic of Music recitals at the end of each semester. The music performed includes a great variety of genres such as classical, rock, folk, jazz, musical theatre, blues, and more. With this range, performers are sure to connect to everyone in the audience.
deVries has taken voice and piano lessons at Worcester State and has performed in two voice recitals. He is enthusiastic about the connecting message of music and opportunities on stage on with performers.
“The audience is always supportive and welcoming, and the faculty is eager to provide students with opportunities to showcase their talents and obtain performing experience. It is always enjoyable to hear fellow students perform as well. Sometimes you are surprised to see someone from the same class as you a class taking the stage with a winsome performance!”
For students, finally performing what they have learned and practiced for so long is ebulliently fulfilling. They not only showcase their skills to an audience but they have a shared experience with classmates and other musicians. For the audiences of these performances, there is a sense of connection with the musicians and enjoyment of the euphonious melodies. Even if someone cannot sing a note or plunk out a piano tune for their life, they can still appreciate the expression of the performer’s self.
Musically-inclined students have been making their presence seen and heard. And they show no signs of slowing down.